Infant Illnesses | Spotlight on gastroenteritis

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"GE is an infection of the gut that is most often caused by a virus." (Getty Images)
"GE is an infection of the gut that is most often caused by a virus." (Getty Images)
  • If your child cannot hold food down at either end, he or she could have gastroenteritis. 
  • It's one of the most common gut infections among children and "is often seasonal".
  • A local expert gives tips on home treatment and what constitutes an emergency. 

    Having a newborn baby is overwhelming enough and if they show signs of illness, it can be really scary.

    Parent24 put together a series on common infant illnesses to guide you when your baby is sick.

    Together with a local paediatrician or doctor, we'll help you decide when to panic. It's probably not as serious as you think, but let's be sure.

    Catch more instalments of our #infantillness series here

    A typical concern: 

    "Please help! My 3-year-old's digestive system has gone haywire. He's vomiting and has diarrhoea. What is going on?"


    Your baby might have gastroenteritis (GE) . 

    "GE is the commonest gut infection in babies and children. There is often seasonal spread as well as increased numbers of cases associated with overcrowding, poor access to clean water and handwashing facilities," Dr Iqbal Karbanee tells Parent24.

    A paediatrician and CEO of Paed-IQ BabyLine, Karbanee says GE begins "with the onset of vomiting and then the passing of loose, watery stools".

    "A child with vomiting and diarrhoea that is not taking in enough fluids is at high risk of dehydration," he warns. 

    What causes GE? 

    Dr Karbanee describes GE as "an infection of the gut that is most often caused by a virus". 

    The paediatrician says although it is similar to a small number of disorders, "infectious gastroenteritis is by far the commonest cause of loose stools in children". 

    ALSO SEE | Squeaky clean: How to sterilise baby bottles, and when to stop

    Symptoms to look out for: 

    According to Karbanee, typical symptoms of GE include:

    • vomiting;
    • diarrhoea;
    • loss of appetite; and
    • loss of energy.

    How long will it last?

    "Fortunately, most cases of GE are self-limiting and last for around five days. If complicated, the GE may carry on for up to two weeks," Karbanee says. 

    How is it spread?

    While relatively short-lived, GE is highly contagious, Dr Karbanee advises, adding that while anyone can become infected, babies aged 6 months to 3 years are "the highest-risk group".

    "GE is very contagious as the loose stools are full of the virus that is causing the diarrhoea. Careful cleansing is necessary as well as vigorous attention to handwashing and preparation of feeds". 


    Karbanee says home treatment can be done in mild cases, "by giving the affected child enough fluids". 

    To replace lost electrolytes, he suggests putting together a rehydration solution. 

    "To correctly prepare this rehydration solution, one litre of boiled and cooled water should be used. To this, half a teaspoon of salt and six teaspoons of sugar should be added. Once mixed thoroughly, the child should be given small amounts of fluids as often as possible". 

    When to call the doctor

    Karbanee says that cases of children who are younger than three months must be treated as serious because "the risk of complications is much higher. These babies should be seen to by a medical doctor as soon as possible" 

    "If the baby or child with GE has a fever, is weak and refusing fluids, lethargic or generally appears to be getting worse, a doctor should be consulted immediately. If the baby or child starts passing blood in the stool or appears confused, then this is an emergency," he says. 

    ALSO READ | Spots and rashes on baby? Here's what's normal and when to visit a doctor

    Tips and advice for parents

    "Prevention is best. A vaccine is available for babies under 6 months of age that protects against one of the common causes of GE: Rotavirus. Adequate care in preparing feeds is essential, as is handwashing and general cleansing of surfaces. Once affected, giving the child enough of the correct fluids is vital to prevent dehydration and other complications of GE". 

    You can also ask a doctor or paediatrician directly via Health24 here: Ask an Expert


    Share your stories and questions with us via email at Anonymous contributions are welcome.

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